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Borderland: A Journey on the Migrant Trail
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March 7, 2014 11:30AM ET
Learn more about the six participants as they follow the route of migrants who died crossing the border.
Six Americans from all walks of life and a wide spectrum of views about illegal immigration agree to spend more than a month learning about and retracing the paths of three migrants who perished along the U.S.-Mexico border. Far from their homes — and comfort zones — the six begin their own journey in an unlikely place: an Arizona morgue filled with the unidentified remains of would-be immigrants.
“You all have strong opinions about the border,” Pima County Chief Medical Examiner Gregory Hess tells them. “The one thing you all have in common is you don’t really know it.” Now they will get their chance.
|Hometown:||Little Rock, AR|
Republican State Senate Aide
Says illegal immigrants take American jobs and should be deported
A former beautician and bikini model who had never traveled outside the United States, Alison became intrigued when she saw a tweet from “Borderland” producers offering to provide more information about immigration.
“It was out of nowhere. I wrote and filled out an application — never thinking in a million years it would become real,” says Alison, who earned a degree in political science in college. “I got my passport just for this show.
She works as a Republican State Senate aide in Little Rock and is “angry and frustrated with our system and our government” when it comes to immigration. “I can’t understand how there could be 11 million–plus undocumented people in the U.S. and that we don’t know who they are,” she says, adding that many are “welfare projects” who undercut the “legal” workforce.
|Position:||Says he is “the most neutral of the group” but leans toward letting everyone in for what he calls “a selfish reason”
A third-generation farmer, Gary grows potatoes and asparagus on his family’s 1,000-acre Washington state farm. All his 180 employees are Hispanic, and while he says they all have paperwork showing they are eligible to work, he admits he has no idea who is here legally and who is not.
He is certain that his workers aren’t taking the jobs of native-born Americans, who he says reject the hard stoop labor required to bring in the harvest. “Without all these people coming in, these menial jobs would not get done,” he says.
Married and the father of two, Gary says he applied to “Borderland” for the adventure. “Whatever happens, I am going to embrace it.”
|Occupation:||Community organizer with social justice organization We Count!|
Believes undocumented immigrants should not be subject to deportation and should be offered a pathway to citizenship.
Lis-Marie arrived in the United States as a legal immigrant from Nicaragua when she was 12. “Growing up in a developing country that was devastated by U.S. intervention and civil war was very formative for me,” she says, noting it instilled in her a passion for justice and a determination to fight inequality.
Lis-Marie signed on for “Borderland” after its producers contacted the Student/Farmworker Alliance, where she is a member of the Steering Committee and which advocates for better wages and conditions for workers in the fields.
“It’s a huge mess,” she says of the current immigration picture. “When I hear the word ‘illegal’ being used by the news, by the different media outlets, it is really shameful. It dehumanizes people, and it reduces people just to being criminals, which they are not.”
As the sole Latina and native Spanish speaker in the cast, Lis-Marie says she sometimes felt removed from the group. Still, “the U.S. is a country we all share. Whether we like it or not, here we are,” she says. “I am hopeful for the future and think we can change for the better.”
|Hometown:||Las Vegas, NV|
|Position:||Would deport all illegal immigrants.
Kishana Holland was on the 97th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center when the plane hit on 9/11. Although all the hijackers had entered the country legally, she says the terrorist attack turned her into “a xenophobe” and helped prompt her family’s move to Las Vegas.
“As a mom, illegal immigration just scares me,” the married mother of two says.
Her view was driven — literally — home when she got into a car accident with an undocumented immigrant.
“He was crying, ‘Let’s not call the police. I don’t have a driver’s license,’” she recalls. “So when I saw the ad [for “Borderland”], this was one of the issues I had — that someone can do damage to your property and you have no recourse.”
While Kishana admired the legal immigrants, she grew up around in Brooklyn, for those without papers, she is uncompromising. “If I knew I had a neighbor that was an illegal immigrant for a fact, I will call INS and turn them in,” she says.
|Occupation:||Retired Marine, radio talk show host|
|Position:||Calls illegal immigrants “moochers” who don’t deserve a path to citizenship.
A former write-in candidate for governor of Illinois for the religiously conservative Constitution Party, Randy ran on a platform that included cutting off health care, education and other government benefits to those who are here illegally.
“I am unequivocally opposed to amnesty. I don’t think that is the answer,” he says of President Barack Obama’s push to offer a path to citizenship to 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Although immigration was a centerpiece of his campaign, Randy says he joined “Borderland” because “I’ve never been to the border and I wanted to see it with my own eyes.”
|Occupation:||Street photographer and artist|
Believes borders shouldn’t exist.
A skateboarding New Yorker who lives in a loft with 10 other artists in a city of immigrants, Alex rejects the very idea of borders and says his friends include many who are undocumented. “There’s no such thing as illegal,” he says, noting that we are all human. “There are just humans.”
Although the former Paris art student heard “horror stories” from immigrant friends who described their journeys, he says he was unprepared for what he actually saw during the filming of “Borderland.”
“The hardest part was, everyone we met had the same story,” Alex says. “When I met the mother [of a dead migrant], it was as if I was speaking to my own mother.”
Like other participants, he was struck by a desire to break the gridlock on immigration.
“The really big question is, can we disagree but still move forward?”